New Study Highlights Benefits Of Offshore Wind

OCEAN CITY—A new independent study conducted by a private-sector research group released earlier this month extols the potential of offshore wind off the coast of Ocean City but cautions cost estimates are difficult to pin down at this stage in the approval and implementation phase.

Earlier this month, the results of an independent study conducted by Gabel Associates and commissioned by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network were released publicly. The comprehensive study takes a deeper dive into a handful of approved offshore wind energy projects off the resort coast and attempts to analyze the potential environmental and economic benefits. The weighty tome is full of technical charts and graphs outlining the potential costs to implement wind energy farms off Maryland’s cost along with potential positive and negative impacts on the state’s electric energy ratepayers, and weighs those against the positive environmental benefits of helping the state reach its ambitious renewable energy goals.

According to the study, Maryland has established an ambitious target to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 60% from 2006 levels by 2031. The long-range goal is to achieve net zero emissions by 2045. Ambitious goals to be sure, but the Gabel study concludes they can be met with an expedited approval and implementation process for the projects already in the pipeline.

With few offshore wind energy farms in operation off the coast of the U.S., the Gabel report suggests cost estimates for those projects in the existing planning pipeline are just that—estimates.

“Publicly available cost data for offshore wind projects in the U.S. is limited,” the report reads. “The available cost data is constantly changing due to macroeconomic drivers like inflation and supply chain issues. Additionally, costs have generally been declining because of advances in technology, engineering design and manufacturing processes.”

Because the projects approved off the coast of Maryland are not yet through the various approval phases, the study concludes it is difficult to pin down cost estimates for the finished product. However, the Gabel study asserts the eventual cost of the project for the state’s ratepayers will be offset by the environmental benefits, emissions reductions and job creation, for example.

“Given these evolving factors, this report uses a conservative approach to estimate the coast of offshore win using a range of sources, while considering the uncertainties,” the report reads. “This is not intended to provide a reasonable estimate for calculating costs and benefits of additional offshore wind energy development. Cost estimates for new offshore win in Maryland in 2028 are based on publicly available cost projections. The cost projections vary because of different assumptions. We relied on a range of potential estimates to forecast the cost in Maryland.”

While the report focuses on the anticipated benefits of offshore wind energy farms off the resort’s coast, the projects have not been without their detractors. Recreational and commercial fishermen have railed against the potential impact of ever-growing turbine fields off the coast on their industries. On land, the Town of Ocean City officials from the beginning have said they support wind farms and sustainable, renewable energy, but have pushed state and federal officials to have the massive turbines further off the coast to the point they are invisible from the shore, to no avail.

In an editorial published by Maryland Matters, professional engineer and chair of the Future of Energy Initiative Alex Pavlak said despite some of the rosy estimates on the benefits of offshore wind in Maryland by the Gabel Associates study, the proposed projects are not without inherent problems.

“The fatal problem with offshore wind is the cost of managing large-scale intermittency on clean systems with no cheap fossil fuel backup,” Pavlak wrote. “There is no simple solution. The more offshore wind, the less fossil fuels, the more expensive the backup. Halfway to zero emissions, ratepayers are likely to rebel over high electricity prices and Maryland gets stuck with an expensive, dirty system, just like Germany.”

However, environmental groups and renewable energy advocates have praised the study’s findings. Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which commissioned the Gabel study, said its findings conclude offshore wind is a reliable way to help Maryland reach its zero emission, renewable energy goals.

“Offshore wind is Maryland’s greatest energy resource, and these numbers show how beneficial these projects will be for Marylanders,” he said. “We have emission reduction goals we need to meet, and we have rising energy prices. Here, we can see that we have the answer to both in offshore wind energy.”

Gabel Associates’ Isaac Gabel-Frank agreed the proposed wind energy farms off the coast of Ocean City have the potential to meet the state’s goals while providing a benefit to the state’s citizens in a variety of ways.

“Our report shows the potential for offshore wind to act as a key resource in meeting Maryland’s emissions goals, while providing significant benefits to customers,” he said.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.